To the chief Musician on Neginoth, Maschil, A Psalm of David. It needed the chief musician to sing such a Psalm as this; it is so full of sorrow, and yet so full of confidence in God. It is a Psalm upon the stringed instruments, and it sings not of man only, but of that Son of man — that greatest of men, who was also greatest in grief as greatest in faith. Maschil: that is, “instructive,” “full of teaching.” The experience of one child of God is instructive to another, and especially the experience of the great First-born among many brethren. A Psalm of David — David, that many-sided man, who seemed not one, but “all mankind’s epitome.” Who has not found his own experience when he has read the Psalms of David? It is a looking-glass — this Book of Psalms — which reflects us all. See how he begins.
Psalms 55:1. Give ear to my prayer, O God;
All the saints pray. There is no exception to this rule. And in their times of trouble they pray with greater vehemence than ever. They delight in prayer. But observe how eager they are that God should hear them. It is not praying for praying’s sake — for the use of good words only. “Give ear to my prayer, O God.”
Psalms 55:1. And hide not thyself from my supplication.
When a man passes by his fellow in his distress, he is said to hide himself.
O God, do not pass me by, When thou hearest my plaintive voice, do not hurry on and leave me to my woes. Forget not, beloved, that our Lord Jesus Christ did suffer the hidings of God’s face. You and I may trust that in our hour of prayer we shall not have to do so. “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” But even if we should have to drink of that cup, better lips than ours have tasted its bitterness long ago.
Psalms 55:2. Attend unto me, and hear me:
That is three times he thus implores God to give him a hearing. It reminds me of that Gethsemane pleading of our Lord when thrice he prayed using the same words. Here David begins — makes his exordium in prayer with a threefold cry to God. “Give ear to me; hide not thyself from me; attend unto my prayer, and hear me.”
Psalms 55:2. I mourn in my complaint, and make a noise;
Sometimes prayer is scarcely articulate. “I make a noise.” He was very free with God. He spoke out his heart as best his heart would speak, and he seemed to ramble. I believe that some of our sweetly-composed prayers have no prayer in them, and some of our broken petitions are those that reach the heart of God. “Groanings that cannot be uttered” are prayers that cannot be refused. There may be most strength in the passion of the soul when there is least order in the expression of the soul. “I mourn in my complaints, and make a noise.”
Psalms 55:3. Because of the voice of the enemy,
He can speak, and speak clearly too. Malice is never short of language, “because of the voice of the enemy.”
Psalms 55:3. Because of the oppression of the wicked:
The best men have often been the most oppressed of men. Men have often spoken worst of those who have deserved the best. David is in that plight, and so was our Lord. He, too, knew the voice of the enemy and the oppression of the wicked.
Psalms 55:3. For they cast iniquity upon me,
They bespatter me with their mire; they slander me. They speak evil of my good.
Psalms 55:3. And in wrath they hate me.
It is the old story. The seed of the serpent naturally hates the seed of the woman. Even our Lord had a bruised heel. Know ye not that Ishmael persecutes Isaac, the child of the promise? All down history there runs this line — the mark of blood and suffering. It must be so, “for they cast iniquity upon me, and in wrath they hate me.”
Psalms 55:4. My heart is sore pained within me: and the terrors of death are fallen upon me.
I suppose that David may have written this after he had been driven out of Jerusalem by the party under the leadership of his son Absalom and Ahithophel. When it is all over he sings his song of dolour, and yet of confidence before his God. You know that our Lord Jesus Christ could use this language with very great emphasis. “My heart is sore pained within me, and the terrors of death have fallen upon me” — as if mid-night came down upon his soul — came down from God. “Are fallen upon me.” Descended therefore; and those are the heaviest of griefs which seem to come down just when we expected that showers of mercy would come down. Our Saviour knew what this meant.
Psalms 55:5-6. Fearfulness and trembling are come upon me, and horror hath overwhelmed me. And I said, Oh that I had wings like a dove! for then would I fly away, and be at rest.
If he could not have the wings of an eagle to fight out the conflict, he begged for the wings of a dove to fly from it. But what would you and I be if we had wings? Where could we go if we had wings, but, like the dove of Noah, fly to the Lord? And we can get there without wings, brethren. We can get there by faith in him. It is a vain wish, then, and yet how many have sighed: — “Oh! for a lodge in some vast wilderness, Some boundless contiguity of shade, Where rumour of oppression and deceit might never reach me more.” Ah! we sigh for solitude, and when we get solitude we sigh to get out of it.
Psalms 55:7. Lo, then would I wander far off, and remain in the wilderness. Selah.
Why, David had been in the wilderness, and then he sighed to get back to the temple of God; but such foolish creatures are we at our very wisest that we know not what we sigh for. It was good for David that he had not wings, and it is good for you that you cannot run away. God has made you no armour for your back because you must go forward. Long ago he burnt our boats. We cannot return. We must “forward” now to the eternal victories in his strength.
Psalms 55:8. I would hasten my escape from the windy storm and tempest.
But he that would fly away from slander must fly very fast. How can we escape it? That cruel tongue, that wicked tongue walks through the earth and smites with its sword the best of God’s people. Now, like a soldier, David prays as his Master would never pray.
Psalms 55:9. Destroy, O Lord, and divide their tongues: for I have seen violence and strife in the city.
That was not a bad prayer, for God heard it. He did divide their tongues. The counsels of the wicked were put to naught, and so they made a mistake, and David escaped through their divisions. I see not how a king driven from his throne and hunted by rebels, can pray differently from this.
If he be a warrior and fights at all, he must wish for victory. Yet let me remind you that these verses need not be read in the imperative, neither may they necessarily be understood to be prayers. They can be read as prophecies. “God will destroy and divide the tongues of the wicked.” The divisions of error are the hope of truth. God divides the tongues of those who use their tongues against his Word, and so his truth conquers.
Psalms 55:10. Day and night they go about upon the walls thereof: mischief also and sorrow are in the midst of it.
Remember, Jerusalem was in the hands of a band of wicked men.
Everywhere sin prevailed when David had quitted it.
Psalms 55:11-12. Wickedness is in the midst thereof: deceit and guile depart not from her streets. For it was not an enemy that reproached me; then I could have borne it: neither was it he that hated me that did magnify himself against me; then I would have hid myself from him:
Here you get to the centre of David’s grief. Ahithophel had betrayed him, and here you begin to see the portrait of Christ coming out on the canvas.
David seems to be painted first, and then there is painted an image of our Lord, which is seen here and there. “It was not an enemy; then I could have borne it.”
Psalms 55:13. But it was thou,
In the original it runs thus: “But thou.” The ardour of poetry is upon the Psalmist. He sees him: “Thou.” And he looks at him with indignation: “Thou.”
Psalms 55:13-14. A man mine equal, my guide, and mine acquaintance. We took sweet counsel together, and walked unto the house of God in company.
It is Ahithophel; it is Judas Iscariot; it is either; it is both. Oh! what a grief it is to be betrayed by one whom we have trusted, one whom we treated as our equal, one whom we followed as a trusted guide, one to whom we told our secret and linked our heart. “Mine acquaintance.” One whose friendship was sanctified by the sanctions of religion. “We took sweet counsel together, and walked to the house of God in company.” Have any of you had to suffer from this serpent’s tongue? Be not surprised. Your Master endured it before you. And now David bursts out in words of prayer, “Let death seize upon them. Let them go down quick into hell.”
Psalms 55:15. Let death seize upon them, and let them go down quick into hell: for wickedness is in their dwellings, and among them.
And this prayer also was heard, for Ahithophel was hanged with a rope,
and Absalom without one; and their followers perished by thousands in the wood of Ephraim; and so God swept away the good man’s slanderers.
Psalms 55:16. As for me,
What would I do? Plot against their plots, and set cunning against their cunning? No, not I.
Psalms 55:16-17. I will call upon God; and the LORD shall save me. Evening, and morning, and at noon, will I pray, and cry aloud: and he shall hear my voice.
He would pray often, but not too often. Where time sets her boundaries there are we to set up our altars: evening and morning, and at noon. It seems natural that our undertakings should be begun, continued, and ended in God, and that each day. Oh! pray much when your enemies plot much. If, morning, noon, and evening, they are seeking your ill, then just as often seek you good from God. How beautifully he puts it. “He shall hear my voice.” He does not pray at a peradventure. He is certain that prayer will come up to God. Yea, more than that, he anticipates a blessing; he foresees, nay, he sees the blessing.